The International Writers Magazine

White Sands
Vincent Lowry

The Soaptree Yucca sits defiantly atop a wind-carved dune. Its needle-like leaves resist the incessant gypsum whippings and its fingering roots grasp the shifting soil. The stubborn tree sits alone, a green dot on a vast ocean of white.
Jim – clad in sneakers, blue jeans, and a yellow windbreaker – stares at the spiky plant from another dune, his teal eyes as wide as saucers.

A breeze billows the hood of his thin jacket, filling the nylon opening with golden light. Jim’s father, standing in a larger but identical yellow jacket, looks at his awestruck son and pats his back.
"Neat, huh," Jim’s father says.
Jim nods, never taking his eyes off the Yucca and the ever-changing dune. Jim’s father bends down, his knees going off like gunshots, and buries his hand into the fine sand. He scoops up a heaping handful, some of the sand cascading off his palm, and shows it to Jim.
"Deposits from the ancient sea," Jim’s dad says. "Put your hands together."
Jim does as his father tells him, and receives the colorless soil as if it were a precious, breakable gift. The tiny white grains pour into Jim’s cupped hands like warm silk. Some of the sand slips between Jim’s fingers, and Jim, ashamed of his carelessness, closes the gap.
"Know how old that stuff is?"
Jim shakes his head.
"Millions of years."
Jim nods as if he could comprehend this amount of time. He knows it’s older than his dad, and that, to Jim, is a long time. Another gust of wind lifts his hood as Jim watches the sun reflect off the sand in brilliant flashes. Maybe, he thinks, there are a million grains in his hands.

Jim’s father walks toward the Yucca, his feet swimming through the soft dune. Jim carefully places the sand in the same hole his father had dug it from, and runs to catch up. Sand is funny, Jim thinks. His feet feel heavy, like the Thanksgiving weekend he walked in knee-deep powder at Taos Mountain with his mother. Suddenly, a terrifying thought floods his head. What if he were to get buried under all this? What if his dad weren’t around to dig him out?

A dirt devil coils past Jim’s dad as he hikes up the ripples in the dune. Each ripple is perfectly formed, a frozen wave in a sea of white. A black beetle, small but somehow magnified into something larger on this blinding surface, scurries past Jim and burrows into the sand. Where does it go? Jim wonders, furrowing his wrinkleless brow. What does it eat?
Jim’s dad stops beside the Yucca – his thinning black hair flailing in the desert breeze, his lungs expanding and contracting in an effort to recover from the hike – and stares at the prickly tree. Jim, a few steps behind his father, trips and falls hands first to the soft ground. Embarrassed, Jim slaps the thin coat of gypsum from his palms and continues his climb.
"Ever seen a Yucca before?" Jim’s dad asks.
Jim nods, lying.
"I don’t think you seen this kind before. It’s one of the few plants that can grow out here."
Jim nods again, wondering why a beetle could survive in a desert when a plant couldn’t (maybe it’s because the beetle moves?). Above him, scratching the cloudless blue dome with a thin white line, a plane races west. Neither Jim nor his father notice the jet or the sparrow which flies safely, freely above their dune.

Jim’s dad, still staring at the plant, thinks about the land out east: another country, another desert, another sandy field inhibited by people similar to him (yet so drastically different). Jim’s father thinks about how he’ll be there this same time next week. He’ll pack his few belongings, say his goodbyes, then head to San Diego – the sunny city which eludes all soldiers who wish to remain on its inviting beaches and beautiful coastlines. Despite the uncontrollable urge to stay, they’ll depart on a carrier, or a destroyer, or a cruiser, and head out into uncertain waters.
And from there? Undisclosed.

It was a war Jim’s father did and didn’t believe in. He was one of a few still walking the taut high rope, refusing to take a side. Below the rope, the crowd on the left chanted peace, love, and diplomacy (as if the right didn’t believe in such things). Opposite to them, shouting just as loudly, were cries for security, safety, and freedom (as if the left lacked such interests). Both sides were equally determined to drag him down, to take a stand, to choose. Jim’s duty, though, was to simply walk the twine and keep a steady course (fulfill his job).

San Diego, the ship, the war – they were all over the horizon. Right now, on his last weekend, Jim’s father has Jim and the sea of white sand and the brilliant sun. It’s magnificent, this place called White Sands, New Mexico. Every part of it. The untainted blue dome; the cool and constant breezes; the single stubborn green Yucca which refuses to give in to the same elements that destroyed all other forms of vegetation. It’s a snapshot Jim’s father wishes to freeze, spend another week or two roaming the dunes with his son, spend time on things his own father never spent time doing.
"Does it rain out here?" Jim asks, stuffing his hands in his windbreaker because he doesn’t know what else to do with them.
Jim’s father shakes his head, the sun reflecting off a bald spot where there had once been hair. "Not that often."
The plane and its white tail of smoke have disappeared. Like so much that surrounds them, Jim and his father had missed the pleasure of its brief existence. There were pilots in that jet, people, stewardesses, and, more importantly, a soldier who was headed to report for service, a man not unlike Jim’s father – young (yet old), proud (yet ashamed), courageous (yet cowardly).
Jim father’s bends down and lowers himself eye level with Jim. There’s so much he should tell his son. So much he should explain before he leaves. He’ll tell him it now, while the wind tousles his son’s silky black hair, while another dirt devil spirals past them.
"You tired?" Jim’s father asks.
Jim shakes his head. "I’m alright."
Jim’s father nods. The moment has passed. He puts his hand on Jim’s shoulder and stands back up.
"Lets move on, then."
They decline down the dune. They walk side-by-side, feet seeping in the gypsum carpet, two yellow windbreakers (one large, one small) billowing in the gusts. They walk, on this final weekend, as father and son.
© Vincent Lowry December 2005

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